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The Wilderness Above (astronomy)

Winter view of the northern sky

Turning to the north, this week, we see the great bear rising from the northeastern horizon. In the fall, Ursa Major walks along the northern horizon seeking a den for hibernation. It spends the spring rising so that it’s at its highest with the bear’s back knee, marked by Psi Ursae Majoris ...

The depth of the winter sky

In this dark part of the year, a moonless sky can seem particularly deep. Part of the reason for this is the lack of bright constellations in the southern sky visible in the early evenings. There are very few bright stars between the Great Square of Pegasus and Orion. This is due to the fact ...

Tools of the astronomer

The Celestial Grid Places on Earth can be designated politically, with country, state, and city or physically, with latitude and longitude. The Adirondack Sky Center’s Roll-Off Roof Observatory is at 178 Big Wolf Road in Tupper Lake, NY, USA and at 44 degrees 15.303’ (44.255 degrees) North, ...

Dark nights and interstellar visitors

The coziest early evenings of the year are upon us. With over 15 hours of night beginning with sunset around 4:20 p.m. and ending with sunrise around 7:30 a.m., it is no wonder we love to decorate with strings of lights. Those of us who love these long nights seem to be in the minority so as ...

Dance of the evening planets

After adorning the evening skies for most of this year, Jupiter and Saturn are moving toward the sunset horizon. In fact, Earth, in its faster orbit, is leaving them on the far side of the sun. Venus, in its even faster orbit, passed behind the sun on Aug. 14 and has been slowly rising into ...

Rare transit of Mercury coming soon

On Monday, Nov. 11, an event will occur that won’t occur again until 2032 — Mercury will transit the sun. This means that the tiniest, swiftest planet will be seen to cross the face of the sun. The event will begin at 7:36 a.m. EST as the planet appears to touch the southwest edge of ...

Jupiter, Saturn, and the Milky Way

Once again, the relentless orbit of the tilted Earth is nodding the northern hemisphere toward the sun, shortening the nights, and ending this column until the lengthening hours of darkness next November. But there’s much to view in our summer skies, however short the hours of darkness. So ...

The coming and going of life

(Editor’s note: This is a guest astronomy column for “The Wilderness Above” by Aileen O’Donoghue.) --- Mars shines low in the western sky after sunset in May. Earth is moving away from the Red Planet in our annual journey around the sun, and Mars will soon vanish from our sky ...

Discovering M87’s Black Hole

The amazing image of the black hole in the center of the giant galaxy M87 has been hard to miss over the past week. The image is a stunning achievement of astronomical inquiry, technology and persistence. M87 is the largest and second brightest galaxy in the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. As ...

‘Wow!’ happens

The great astronomers, professional and amateur, can be quite specific about when, how and what event ignited their interest in the night sky. It would have been the same moment that also piqued their inspiration for science, and for a life of imagining, dreaming and acting on their dreams. ...

Mars and Uranus in the evening sky

Though Mercury is sinking rapidly in the evening sky, Mars will linger through July as Earth slowly leaves it on the far side of the sun. Another planet currently in the evening sky is Uranus. It can be seen without optical aid, but it’s best to find it in binoculars, then look at the ...

Mercury in the evening sky

Mercury is an elusive planet. Though it is visible in the evening sky about three times each year, many people never get a glimpse at this world because they don’t know when to look for it. This month gives us all a chance to spot it just as the evenings darken. The diagram shows the west ...

A view of the Milky Way

The southern sky visible in the early evening affords us a view out of the plane of our own Milky Way galaxy toward the south galactic pole as shown in Figure 1. There are fewer stars in this region of the sky where the watery constellations of Cetus the sea monster and Eridanus. Cetus is on ...

Tracking the planets’ paths

After crossing between Earth and the sun on Oct. 26, 2018 it rose into the pre-dawn skies and has been a bright beacon for all who get a view of the eastern sky before sunrise. Jupiter was on far side of the sun on Nov. 25, 2018, and Mercury was between Earth and the sun on Nov. 27. These ...

Watching out for Ultima Thule

Last week the news was filled with discussion and images from NASA’s New Horizon’s flyby of Ultima Thule (TOOL-ey), the most distant world yet visited by a human instrument. On Jan. 1, 2019, New Horizons passed this tiny object over 4 billion miles from Earth, coming to within a distance ...

Early darkness provides more viewing time

The early darkness of December evenings allows us to view a portion of the sky nearly devoid of bright stars. The Milky Way galaxy arcs overhead from Aquila low in the western sky through Cassiopeia near the zenith to Orion rising in the east. Thus when we look to the southern horizon, as ...

Navigating to the stars using stars

In past columns we have talked about using the stars to navigate upon the Earth and we have also discussed how some stars become pulsars which emit periodic bursts of radiation in the form of radio, optical, and X-ray emission. Surprisingly, a new NASA mission ties together these two seemingly ...

Virtually clear skies — anytime!

Unlike the scholarly and scientific articles that normally appear in this space, my occasional contributions will focus more on the novice astronomer like myself. As a member of the Adirondack Public Observatory, I often assist with stargazing events. I will try to address some of the common ...

Tools of the astronomers: spectroscopy

Until the detection of gravity waves in September 2015, the only information we had about the universe beyond the earth and moon came to us as electromagnetic waves: light, infrared, ultraviolet, radio waves, X-rays and gamma rays. Other than visible light, we humans have had to slowly ...

Tools of the astronomers: finding distance

Through the years, I’ve written of the distances to stars and galaxies, but have never explained how astronomers have determined those distances. Finding these is actually one of the most challenging aspects of astronomers and measurements are still rife with uncertainty. The first tool ...